The Global Whale Alliance (GWA) was created in 2001 to fight a plan being developed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for the resumption of commercial whaling. The GWA statement against the IWC’s proposed Revised Management Scheme (RMS) has been signed by over 130 animal welfare, conservation and environmental groups worldwide.  Many of these groups are now actively campaigning against their government’s support for the RMS.

One of the reasons the GWA opposes any resumption of commercial whaling under the RMS is the growing environmental crisis threatening the world’s surviving whales and dolphins.  Of the many serious threats to the world’s whales, it is the testing and deployment of military sonar systems, including Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS), that are causing increasing alarm.

In March 2000, after a naval exercise off the Bahamas where a mid-frequency active military sonar was tested, a fatal stranding of 15 beaked whales, 2 minke whales and a spotted dolphin took place.  After initially denying responsibility for this mass-mortality event a subsequent investigation and report has forced the US Navy to finally accept, this year, that sonar testing was responsible for these animals deaths. When you consider that active military sonar systems such as LFAS are to be deployed in 80% of the world’s oceans, the threat posed to the world’s whales, other marine mammals and other ocean life by this destructive military technology is truly frightening.

The Global Whale Alliance does not oppose measures intended to enhance national security however, we believe that these goals can be achieved using ‘passive’ sonar technology that does not harm marine mammals and other marine life.

Included with this letter is a briefing prepared by Dr Marsha Green of the Ocean Mammal Institute and an expert in this field that clearly outlines the threat posed to whales by military sonar technology.  We hope that after reading it you will want to sign on to the anti-LFAS statement attached and return it to us as quickly as possible.

The GWA would very much like your organisation to sign on to our anti-LFAS statement attached.

If you require more information, and ideas on how you can help the anti-LFAS campaign further, please contact Global Whale Alliance at the address below:

Tel\Fax:  (360) 697-6881


Many thanks for your help

Andy Ottaway

Tami Drake

On behalf of the Global Whale Alliance


Low Frequency Active Sonar: Is it worth the risk?

Prepared by: Marsha L. Green Ph.D. - President/Founder, Ocean Mammal


Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) is a military sonar technology designed to detect and track quiet submarines. The U.S. Navy is planning to deploy LFAS in 80% of the world’s oceans. NATO and other Navies also have this technology. Individuals and organizations have expressed concern about the potential impact of LFAS (including deafness, tissue rupture and stranding) on marine mammals, fish and other marine life because it is transmitted at very high decibel levels and travels over long distances. Studies have shown that noise can disrupt development of fish eggs and larva and affect reproductive processes. The source level of LFAS is equivalent to being 20 feet away from a Saturn rocket at take-off. One ship deploying LFAS could affect an ocean area the size of Texas.

In 1996, after testing LFAS secretly for years, the U.S. Navy agreed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and delay further use of LFAS. Consequently, the Navy designed a scientific research program (SRP) to study the short-term behavioural responses of 4 species of baleen whales to playbacks of LFAS transmissions at decibel levels much lower than intended deployment levels. On the basis of this limited, low level testing the Navy concluded in their Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on LFAS that it is safe to expose marine mammals to LFAS at sound pressure levels of 180 dB and lower. In fact, the SRP never exposed whales to sound pressure levels above 155 dB. The Navy acknowledges in the FEIS that “the lack of empirical data in the received level range of 155-180 dB is an issue.”

The Navy released the FEIS in January 2001. Two months later the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a proposed rule/permit for the Navy’s taking of marine mammals while deploying LFAS (taking means harassing, injuring or killing), launching a public comment period. NMFS’ final decision on the proposed rule is still pending at this writing.

Nine out of nine recorded mixed-species strandings including beaked whales have occurred while naval manoeuvres were being conducted in the area. One of these strandings, which occurred in the Bahamas in March 2000 while the Navy was using high intensity mid-frequency sonar, has received much attention since necropsies were performed on some of the stranded animals. The Navy/NOAA report on this stranding (December, 2001) indicates that the whales stranded at received sound levels well below 180 dB and concludes that the “available evidence points to acoustic or impulse trauma” most plausibly caused by the extended use of Navy midrange tactical sonar operating in the area. Evidence also suggests that this event may have impacted most of the beaked whale population in the area.

An earlier mixed species stranding in the Mediterranean in 1996 occurred while NATO was testing a form of LFAS (Nature, 1998). Scientists estimate that in both the Mediterranean (with low frequency sonar) and Bahamian (with mid-frequency sonar) strandings the whales were exposed to received sound levels of about 150-160 dB. In the Environmental Impact Statement on ATOC, a project proposed prior to LFAS involving a 195 dB low frequency underwater sound, the Navy estimated that physiological harm to marine life may begin to occur at sound levels above 150-160 dB. The Mediterranean and Bahamian strandings confirm that sound levels of 150-160 dB can be harmful and call into question the Navy’s current assertion that sound levels up to 180 dB are safe.

There is considerable scientific debate about how loud sounds cause physiological harm to marine mammals. Two possible mechanisms recently discussed at a scientific workshop sponsored by NMFS include 1) tissue damage resulting from acoustic resonance in their bodies and 2) the growth of nitrogen bubbles in the supersaturated blood and tissues of cetaceans. Neither of these mechanisms is discussed in the FEIS on LFAS.

The National Research Council, in a recent report on low frequency sound and marine mammals, expressed concern about the potential effects of low frequency sound on marine life including zooplankton, fish and turtles.  They noted that if the food chain is affected, all marine life will be adversely impacted.

We simply don’t know enough about the effects of high intensity sonars on marine life to risk deployment at this time. Consequently, regulatory agencies should apply the Precautionary Principle when making decisions about acoustic activities to be conducted by the military and other institutions. This is especially true for decisions concerning LFAS as the Navy has advanced passive listening systems that can safely detect quiet submarines. Deployment of LFAS may violate the US Marine Mammal Protection Act and other statutes.  Perhaps it is time to discuss international agreements banning the use of high intensity sonars.


The Global Whale Alliance (GWA) strongly opposes any deployment of Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) throughout the world’s oceans because of the enormous threat it poses to all marine mammals, including whales, dolphins and porpoises, and the marine environment. The threat from LFAS was defined by the United States Marine Mammal Commission in 1996 as follows:

‘If the LFA sonar is made available for worldwide deployment as proposed, all species and populations of marine mammals could possibly be affected. The possible effects could include: death from lung haemorrhage and other tissue trauma; temporary or permanent hearing loss or impairment; disruption of feeding, breeding, nursing, acoustic communication and sensing, or other vital behaviour; annoyance and subsequent abandonment or avoidance of traditional feeding, breeding or other biologically important habitats; psychological and physiological stress, disease, parasites and predation; and changes in the distribution, abundance, or productivity of marine mammal prey species and subsequent decreases in both individual marine mammal survival and productivity in population size and productivity.’

The GWA believes that LFAS deployment poses one of the greatest threats to marine mammals and other marine life.  We are, therefore, greatly alarmed that the United States is planning to deploy LFAS in 80% of the world’s oceans, and that NATO and other navies already possess, or are developing, similarly environmentally destructive military sonar technology.

In view of the unacceptable risk to whales and other marine life posed by LFAS, we demand that a comprehensive independent scientific assessment is conducted in to its potentially catastrophic impact on the global marine environment, and the worlds surviving whale populations in particular, before any further deployment or testing of LFAS is permitted by the world’s navies.



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The Global Whale Alliance is fighting the resumption of commercial whaling and all threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises and the marine environment.